Book Review: The Vermont Way by Gov. Jim Douglas

The Vermont Way: A Republican Governor Leads America’s Most Liberal State By Jim Douglas (New Haven, Vt.:Common Ground Communications / A Bray Book, 2014, pp. 359, paper $35.00). Former Governor Jim Douglas’s autobiography, The Vermont Way, details his thirty-eight-year political service to Vermonters. It is an intimate and personal narrative that captures his outgoing demeanor and tries to define his historical legacy. Shortly after graduation from Middlebury College in 1972, Douglas was elected to the Vermont House. He went on to become majority leader and later joined Governor Richard Snelling’s senior staff. He then served twelve years as secretary of state. He followed that with an eight-year stint as state treasurer, culminating in his election in 2002 as governor, which …
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Book Review: Horse-Drawn Yogurt by Peter Gould

Horse-Drawn Yogurt: Stories from Total Loss Farm By Peter Gould (Brattleboro: Green Writers Press, 2017 pp. 217, paper $19.95) I had no idea what to expect when I began reading Horse-Drawn Yogurt. My expectation of libertine tales of life on a hippie commune in Vermont in the Sixties and Seventies soon gave way to the realization that I was in the hands of a master storyteller – one who knows the point of story is not always the story itself but the deeper truths that narrative conveys about who we are and why we persist amidst life’s chaos and confusion… how we hopefully migrate from naïve and youthful immortals through the realities life imposes to the hard-won wisdom and humility …
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A Tree Falls in our Woods

I love working in the woods and I’ve come to know all the great trees on our land. They’re like friends – the surviving American elm that looks like a frozen geyser as it towers above the other trees, the dying butternuts in disarray, the wolf pines, the sturdy black cherries, and, of course, the centenarian sugar maples. So when I’m cutting downed wood or clearing old paths and cross-country trails and come upon one of my giants lying on the ground, the loss is deep and personal. And when I heard Con Hogan had left us, I knew one of the giants in Vermont’s landscape had fallen. We’re told such losses are simply “nature’s way,” but that does little …
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Aretha Brings It All Home

As a student fascinated with recording technology, I had the privilege of interviewing for a job at Columbia Records when I was in my mid-twenties. I was first asked a lot of questions about production and then asked to critique a recent Columbia release from a technical and creative standpoint. The album was Aretha’s last album for Columbia. I praised the recording quality and expressed amazement at her vocal capacity but lacked the wisdom to remain silent about how soupy the string and horn arrangements were that somehow whitened her beautiful black voice. I didn’t get a callback. Meanwhile two Turkish businessmen, Ahmet and Nesuhi Ertegun had started a “roots music” label called Atlantic Records. In 1967, they persuaded Aretha …
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The Arts: Soul Food

Efforts to defund the National Endowment of the Arts are a quadrennial budget issue here at home. And in many countries, artists, like journalists, are censored, jailed, or even assassinated. Dictators, nativists, and fundamentalists of all stripes are suspicious of art. And for good reason – because art calls on our better angels, challenges orthodoxy, asks impolitic questions, and may even subvert established class order. The enduring enemy of art is fear. Countless works of great art have rocked the world, like the songs of Woody Guthrie and The Freedom Singers, or Billy Holiday’s Strange Fruit. Alvin Ailey Dance Company, To Kill a Mockingbird, and George Orwell’s 1984 all changed how we think. Many momentous shifts in our world order …
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Clean Water

My favorite way to recover after a hot afternoon’s hard work has always been to chug down a quart of ice cold water from a Mason jar and then jump into a clear mountain brook or a neighbor’s pond. It refreshes me both inside and out and reminds me that water is a healer – as well as one of our most fragile natural resources. In the ‘50s, my family had a camp on Lake Willoughby and every spring we’d run one end of a pipe into the lake to feed the camp’s drinking supply. As kids, we drank from mountain streams when hunting and fishing. And we swam in Lake Elmore, even though it was effectively the local septic …
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Comments to Lamoille Family Center Annual Meeting – 6/20/18

Many thanks. It’s an honor to be invited home to be with you all tonight. I greatly appreciate the work you do on behalf of Lamoille County’s families and communities. I want to bring forth a few ideas that I believe are consistent with your mission and values. First, we know that investing in the determinants of child, family, and community well-being is vastly more cost-effective than trying to remediate the damage done by bad policy investments or, worse, neglect. The child who is hungry, homeless, abused, ill, or lacks access to daycare, education, or health services will inevitably show up in our emergency rooms, on our court dockets, in our prisons or in need of some relief from our …
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The Dignity of All Work

Neighbors in an upscale condo development were speculating about what the guy in the end-unit must do for a living to afford a sailboat, motorcycle, and camper. Curious, one strolled over and asked. “Plumber,” came the answer. As a society, we stratify careers as a vertical hierarchy reflecting the accumulation of wealth and power as enviable social values. Service, agriculture, and skilled trades populate the lower rungs of the metaphorical ladder of success. And this ladder implies a value system that today ill serves both our economy and our communities, since our ongoing allegiance to it assures generational continuity at the top, thus furthering a disproportionate accumulation of wealth. The spectrum of career and employment opportunities could be better represented …
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Roads Scholar and Gravel Slalom

I’ve finally reached that mind-body equilibrium we all seek. I’m both a Roads Scholar and a Gravel-road Slalom competitor. You’re probably not familiar with either unless you live at the end of four miles of a dirt road in Vermont and live here year-round. For many of us the primal terror of “mud season” faded with the invention of Tyvek, now underlying the uppermost gravel layer on our back roads. The white lingerie gracing many unfinished homes in our backwoods turned out also to be a boon for those of us living on back roads where in spring the water-table overtakes the road surface. Tyvek has drastically reduced the boggy swales that mired our cars each spring. Visitors driving along …
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A Heedless Death

I grew up reading Vermont Life in the fifties and continued reading it until shortly after the turn of the century. It always had a prominent place in our home, moving quarterly from the coffee table to the bathroom magazine rack – where its continued perusal was assured – and finally to a shelf in the den. Back then, Vermont Life was collectible not disposable. Eventually I lost interest as the magazine shifted away from the substantive features and images that define us toward lifestyle and marketing. My only real business savvy in life has been marketing, and I’ve always believed that the best marketing conveys substance rather than fluff. Consumers have largely become inured to marketing yet still crave …
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